Roger Ebert died yesterday.
A few years ago, when some friends of mine and I were fortunate enough to score a book deal out of a dumb Twitter thing we were doing, it came time to find someone to write the foreword. One of the first big Twitter names to notice us and promote us was Roger Ebert, and he was an idol for many of us, so we went to him. Some folks suggested that we try to get a bigger name, but we stuck with Ebert, who graciously accepted, and wrote a foreword that was way better than we deserved. (I still remember Ken sending me an IM that said, “Dave, I just gave a deadline to ROGER EFFIN EBERT.”) For us, a giant had stooped down and given us a hand. For him, he was just being a guy who liked talking about the stuff he liked.
He is going to be missed, but his wit, intelligence, skill, style, and graciousness will never be forgotten.
Here are some of the other FAPS guys on Ebert:
I keep this at my desk as a reminder of cool shit I’ve done. Now it reminds me of how lucky I was to even brush up against a great man’s life in art. It only occurs to me just now that one of the main things I wrote in it was about bullshit dopes who quotewhore in their movie reviews. There’s a pretty fair shot he might have gotten a kick out of that, and a writer couldn’t ask for more of an accomplishment than that.
So incredibly sad to hear about Roger Ebert’s passing. He’s one of my heroes: a great writer, a passionate critic, and a generous human being. The story of how he agreed to do the introduction for Write More Good is a testament to his generosity. His response to the request was quick and short: “Sure. Sounds like fun.” He sent his final draft on Oscar night, when I’m pretty sure he had better things to do. His early support of FakeAPStylebook was critical to its success. The Bureau Chiefs owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.
During that brief time we corresponded with him, I had the opportunity to thank him and let him know how much he influenced me. I specifically mentioned how his writing and commentary on Citizen Kane are permanent fixtures in my film classes, and how they enhanced my enjoyment of that film. I’m grateful to have had that opportunity.
And I would be remiss if I did not note the passing of Roger Ebert. The loss of his great wit and intelligence is a sad one, but thankfully he left behind no small amount of writing that will continue to entertain and educate us for a long time to come. It was he and his longtime reviewing partner Gene Siskel that introduced Young Me to the idea that film criticism was even a thing, and perhaps, even more generally, the idea that one’s entertainment can be thoughtfully considered and not just passively absorbed.
Though I may not have grasped the specifics of Siskel and Ebert’s spirited debates over film, they did lay the foundation for something important and invaluable. Like most kids, my notion of quality was a strictly binary affair. A given item was either “awesome” or “sucky.” The difference between eating a spoonful of pre-sweetened lemonade mix or an elegant French pastry was negligible. Sweet was sweet, and that was good enough from the consumption standpoint.
The notion that creative works could be examined and evaluated wasn’t an immediate, transformative epiphany — I still had a long row of unquestioned junk to hoe — but enough of their critical approach osmosed to provide a framework to actively and subconsciously build upon in the years to come.